“In history, a great volume is unrolled for our instruction, drawing the materials of future wisdom from the past errors and infirmities of mankind.” 
Edmund Burke 

Inspired by a museum

While visiting our son and daughter-in-law recently in Austin, Texas, we spent an afternoon at the Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) Library and Museum there. It is a ten-floor treasure trove of displays and archived material about the life and times of the 36th president of the United States. Three floors are open to the public with marvelous interactive and multimedia displays covering his birth in 1908, his remarkable political career, his presidency, his, death in 1973, and his legacy. I can’t recommend this facility highly enough, and even if you don’t plan to be in Texas anytime soon, I encourage you to visit the library’s website http://www.lbjlibrary.org/, where you can get a sense of the remarkable scope of the facility and find a great deal of fascinating information.

Giants of history were flawed humans who achieved fame or notoriety

I came away feeling educated, informed, inspired, and enormously moved by being reminded of so many significant achievements and accomplishments that occurred during Johnson’s presidency, not only in the arena of Civil Rights, but also in education, welfare, healthcare, environmental preservation, and national beautification. There were also dark spots in his record, of course, such as the Vietnam War and his less attractive personal character flaws, but I came away with a vivid picture of what someone can accomplish with a clear and determined vision. And that someone, of course, could be you or me.

Connecting with the past can also connect us to a better future

On a broader scale, I came away with a renewed appreciation for the enormous service historians, curators, and archivists perform for our society and our world by connecting us to our past. What treasures and information would be lost without their dedicated preservation and interpretation? But in a very real sense, their work does far more than just connect us to the past. Studying the past and learning lessons from both accomplishments and mistakes can inform the future, reduce repeated mistakes, and inspire future achievements.

It is both liberating and humbling to realize those giants of history whom we may either admire or despise were, after all, just humans like you and me. Inside each of us, I believe, are seeds are greatness, just as there were inside our ancestors. By studying and learning about those who have gone before, we can find clues to our own greatness or, perhaps even to our own weaknesses.

Either way, we can learn and benefit.

Either way, the study of the past can smooth the way to a brighter future.

What’s your experience studying the past?

Have you ever felt empowered, inspired, or emboldened by reading or studying the past? I’d love to hear how. Or share with us your favorite museum experience.

“To remain ignorant of things that happened before you were born is to remain a child.”   ~Cicero

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